Child bride from South Carolina featured in British documentary airing Friday

A new documentary focusing on America’s child marriage laws features a South Carolina woman who was 15 when she married a 24-year-old.

The BBC documentary, which will be available online Friday, features three child brides and looks at the patchwork of state laws on marriage age.

Starting in South Carolina, freelance documentary filmmaker Ellie Flynn traveled to Spartanburg where she found 16 child marriages over the past decade in county records. “In ten of those cases, the groom could have been prosecuted under statutory rape laws,” the BBC reports.

“One of these marriages was between teenager Keri, then 15, and Paul, then 24. When Keri became pregnant, Paul agreed to marry her and help look after the baby in order to avoid prison. This raises a central question for Ellie: whose rights are more important: the underage, pregnant girl or the unborn, potentially fatherless baby?” according to the BBC.

The documentary also features a case that crossed state lines from Iowa to Missouri. “In Idaho, child marriage laws require a court order from a judge, but in the state of Missouri only the consent of one parent is needed. So when Heather became pregnant at 14, and without consulting her mother, Heather’s father drove her across the USA to marry her 24-year-old rapist,” according to the BBC.

A Kansas City Star series on child brides in Missouri found that state had “the most lenient law in the nation.”

The Star featured the story of Brittany Koerselman, whose parents took the pregnant 15-year-old from Iowa to Missouri to marry the baby’s 21-year-old father.

“I never wanted to get married, ever, like in my life,” Koerselman told The Star. “But I did it anyway, because it was either that or he go to prison, like, forever.”

The BBC documentary features a third story from Georgia with a woman named Zion, who was 17 at the time.

“Zion didn’t need to use the marry-your-rapist loophole, and nor was her groom at risk of prosecution for statutory rape. Many campaigners want to change Georgia’s minimum marriage age to 18, but Zion is convinced that this would have meant the end of her and David’s family, as they would have been forced to live apart for two years,” the BBC reports.

Lawmakers in Missouri, South Carolina and other states are working to change minimum marriage age laws in their states, according to the Kansas City Star and The State newspapers.

There are bills in the South Carolina House and Senate to raise the age of marriage in the state and close loopholes, according to The State.

“Women who are married as children have much higher divorce rates, higher school dropout rates, an increased risk of poverty, more medical and mental health problems, and a greater vulnerability to domestic violence,” Ann Warner, chief executive of the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network, told South Carolina lawmakers in January, The State reported.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.